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Category Archives: flicks

weekend braindump

My biggest weakness – bigger than any weakness in character, or for spending money, or really even for wasting time – is that I’ll always stop to read something.

It’s such a subtle flaw. We’ve been over how as a child I felt compelled to read cereal boxes as I ate breakfast, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s my voracious reading – how on vacation as a child my mother would pack an entire suitcase of books, because you never wanted to encounter a me with nothing to read.

In adulthood it manifests a little differently. I’ve lost patience for fictional universes, so slow to unwind before me. Now the communications major has taken over. I’ll read Rolling Stone while tying my shoes, and even carry my laptop into the bathroom if I haven’t quite finished reading an article.

Okay, maybe that was over sharing.

Where once I was limited by my physical ability to store words, now I’m only limited by bandwidth and time.

The awful side of my habit is getting caught up in junk words. Trolling through FaceBook status updates. Reading comments from the misanthrope TalkBackers on Ain’t It Cool News. Are these altering my life in a positive way? Am I better person for consuming them?

All that said, here are the more substantial words that have kept me occupied over the weekend.

First, there is Battlestar Galactica. There are a scant six episodes left of this genre-shattering drama, and the press has belatedly gone into overdrive to promote the show (you know, just in case people have time to watch four seasons worth of backstory so they can catch the last six episodes live).

If you are amongst that demographic you probably shouldn’t even be reading these articles, as they are spoilers-galore if you aren’t all caught up through this past Friday’s doozy of an ep. I’ll try not to put spoils into the links, but if you aren’t up to Season 4.5 please don’t click through anything.

Jenna Busch has a fantastic interview with the alluring and well-spoken Kate Vernon, who has always been spectacular on BSG. goes on at great length with Grace Park, who reveals lots of interesting production details – including what its like to act as Sharon and Boomer within minutes of each other.

A thoughtful in-canon letter to the editor about Why Tom Zarek Was Right during the course of recent events on the show (I happen to agree). a brief one with Katee Sackoff, who reveals that she was battling thyroid cancer at the end of the series, adding to the emotional weight of her performance.

OS news has a lengthy chat with Nikki Clyne, who played Cally. I love how all of the BSG actors are more than just actors – Nikki is working on some kind of social networking site? They’re all such renaissance people. For example, scroll towards the bottom of composer Bear McCreary’s interview with some of the actors to read a hilarious tale of how Michael Trucco (Anders) helps launch a historical ship with Michael Hogan (Tigh). Also in that interview, the stunning (in beauty and as an actor) Rekha Sharma dishes that she spent weeks hanging out together in L.A. with Kate Vernon – I can’t decide if that’s better as an intellectual fantasy or an erotic one. ?

Okay, I also read some interesting things not about a fictional universe.

Lincoln’s Laws of War challenges you to recall your AP History as it outlines how the rights that Team Bush so ably dissected were first put in place by Obama’s presidential idol.

A compelling (if a little too detached) piece of longform from VF writer Vicky Ward on the serpentine tale of Esther Reed, a girl who ran away from one troubled life into another in a quest to find some suitable outlet for her secret genius.

A surprisingly personal (at least, to me) take on Michelle Obama, from Vogue, of all places. I love this woman so much. It is surely my goal to meet her at some point in my life.

Nate Silver – of my preferred election website, 538 – uses similar predictive modeling to guess the outcomes of Oscar.

The Academy’s PR team is making a lot of noise about how intimate and different their ceremony will be this year, but I don’t know if they can capitalize on the success of the Grammys because movies are experiential in a completely different way than music is. On the Grammys people tune in to hear songs. On the Oscars people tune in to see stars. Unless Titanic is nominated they could take or leave the movies. Their only hope might be holding the Supporting Actor trophy until later in the program than usual, since it’s the only major award their voters deigned to offer to Dark Knight.

I won’t be watching because – lack of live teevee aside – I only watch award shows with Erika. That said, I do love Hugh Jackman.

best […] ever

[British Belgian restaurant]
We found an amazing Belgian restaurant where I had truly phenomenal mussels. The couple beside us told us they come from outside the city just to have dinner there, and then go home.

[American bragging rights]
Every conversation we’ve had so far in London includes, “What do you think about Obama?” to which we reply in chorus, “We love him!” We have a pretty set script we’re working from at this point. In France it was more polite questioning, but here people have been probing a bit more.

[away-from-home mattress streak]
The wedding hotel mattresses were absolutely heavenly. Like, even the night before with all the nervous energy and whatnot I slept like a rock. I would have tied one to the roof of our car if I could have. Then in Paris we had the sort of ultra-firm Ikea futon mattress that we have at home. And now we’re on a comfortably soft, well-appointed deluxe queen. Seriously, this is highly improbable success.

[water served below room temperature]
Finally, water with ice. I mean, Paris was definitely the best place ever, but I can only drink so much room temperature water in any given week.

[honeymoon timing]
France’s public transit workers and teachers went on strike about an hour ago. We were about four Metro stops from anything of interest; we would have been stranded if we had stayed an extra day.

[drunken plans to write a musical of a movie we watched on our first date seven years ago]
We got sortof drunk over dinner on Beglian beer and, much to the delight of our neighboring couple, debated at length how we would go about writing and staging a musical of The Princess Bride. We got as far as breaking out the songs and their titles and arguing over appropriate voice parts. We’re very into the idea at the moment, but let’s see what happens when we sober up in the morning.

Anything you’d like to add?

La Matrice

On our first night Cèline showed us the DVD player and indicated a modest pile of movies. We managed to get out to a brief dinner, but when we returned we were out of steam and decided to watch a bit of Matrix, en Francais. We were asleep before they broke Neo out.

Our day of sleeping in terminated in a long walk, and when we got back we settled in for some more Matrix. We nodded off just before Neo watched the kid bend the spoon.

Last night after Louvre and our homemade dinner I didn’t even make it to Matrix – I fell asleep watching BBC news.

Tonight, after the Jeu de Paume we walked to (and up) Eiffel, and then took the Metro to Latin Quarter, where we went around and around, before finally Metroing back to the flat. We are watching the Matrix before going to bed.

I don’t know if we’re ever going to watch this movie in English again.

That didn’t turn out quite how I meant it to.

I didn’t even mention the Swamps of Sadness and how Artax dying is the saddest thing ever and how I’m wrapped up in my desk chair reliving all of these old emotions and that at first it was so hard to understand why I was writing the things I wrote but now I’ve been reading for so many days in a row that they make just as much sense as the present day and that I’m afraid that if I keep at it for much longer I will be nineteen again with all of the desperation and uncertainty that came with the territory.

Well, maybe it’s better off the way it is. More coherent, anyhow.

“In the beginning, it is always dark.”

Have you ever watched The NeverEnding Story? You know how the book seems to bleed into Sebastian’s life, with him running afoul of frightening taxidermy during an encounter with G’mork.

Today my life is something like that.

Ever since I I first transferred from Blogger to WordPress in the midst of the first NaBloPoMo (a feat I still can’t believe I engineered), I’ve also been moving backwards though the almost 3000 posts that came before, categorizing them into tidy chunks that tell the stories of my life.

I’m determined to at least categorize back into the year 2000 by the end of the month, and in my surge of personal excavation I’ve become firmly entrenched in the “Behind the Music” portion of my life – recording a seminal album while going through a horrific breakup and a nearly deadly illness. Flirting with potential entanglements Oh, and drinking a lot.

That old, unhappy, unsure me seems so alien in the present day. To catch all of the themes in those old posts I’ve had to do more than read them – I’ve had to put myself in their place. How else to remember that I hatched my plot to break up with Selina as an allegory of why I shouldn’t pull an all-nighter?

In the process of getting into character I feel like those old posts have been slowly transforming my present day life. I Trio “Will It Ever Come,” telling the story of how it was written, and then find myself re-reading the post about recording it in the studio. Yesterday I re-read one lamenting that it was hard to tell if you have a fever when you’re under a spotlight, and last night I replayed the experience at our benefit show – half sick and half in-the-moment.

This evening I have a tickle in my chest that’s scarily reminiscent of the beginnings of my legendary bout of bronchitis and pneumonia that I’m about to be rereading.

The coincidence is starting to become frightening, if only because I’ve now crossed the threshold into the worst month of my life – the torturous rehearsal process for Good Woman of Setzuan, nearly failing classes, the depths of my relationship, deaths in the family.

If this was really The NeverEnding Story I would be able to reach back into the plot to shake me out of the stupor. I remember being five and jumping up and down on the bed in my father’s hotel room, screaming unintelligibly along with Bastian as he inserted himself into Fantasia, first interrupting Atreyu’s conversation with Morla, and later by naming the princess “Moon Child.”

Or, maybe I already have – without knowing it – and the only reason that younger me broke free of his darkness was because I am sitting here, happy and healthy, willing him to get on with his life.

Spike Jonze knows Where the Wild Things Are

Ain’t It Cool News posted a monstrous, wide-ranging interview with director Spike Jonze, mostly focusing on his unusually organic approach to filming the Maurice Sendak classic Where the Wild Things Are.

If you’ve kept up with the gossip on this flick you know it was originally scheduled for release this holiday season, but its debut is now slated for next year. Was there any truth to the story floated that early test footage was flat and lifeless? The interview says “maybe,” but qualifies that by divulging intriguing details about the process of editing the performance of their child star and creating individual personalities for each of the Wild Things.

Jonze is a master craftsman, and each of the stories that unravel during the interview are fascinating – from his holistic approach to special effects to taking turns with Katherine Keener standing-in as an 8-year-old boy, and his idea to promote the film by having kids talk about their feelings (rather than hawking toys at Burger King).

Fantastic long-form journalism.

Pink Envelopes, Cheerful Weeks, Dark Knights

I’ve been really dodging my blogging lately. Which, per usual, is indicative of life being actually full-to-the-brim of interestingness that I am simply not diligent enough to record.

Some vignettes:

I received a pink envelope in the mail yesterday, with no return address. Definitely raised some fiancee eyebrows until I opened it and realized it was from the bridal boutique where I just bought the dresses for my groomsladies.

Note to boutique: when dealing with the groom, do not send receipts to him in unmarked pink envelopes. It does not bode well for the eventual wedding.


For the last two weeks we have been slightly less yuppy / slightly more domestic with the addition to our household of Elise’s brother.

Despite my compilation of an exhaustive list of cool things to see and do in Philly, we haven’t done all that much of interest. Yet, I’ve been having a cheerful, excellent time – not just in hanging out with him but in life in general … waking up early, going to bed satisfied with my day.

I half attribute it to having a sibling around to take an interest in, and half to the novelty of having someone who I totally relate to that is not a girl.

(His best quote so far, I think, was “Dave & Busters? That’s like Chucky Cheese with beer, right?)

The downside, if there is one, is that my scant project-oriented time is bisected further than it usually is just with Elise-hanging, which has left less attention for blogging, songwriting, piano-playing, et cetera.

That, and that I finally am starting to understand what it is to have a sibling relationship with someone younger than me (as to opposed to with Lindsay or Erika), and I’m going to be really sad when he’s done with Philly for the summer, because this is definitely a one-time-only thing – next summer he’ll be looking at colleges and then he’ll be out in the world on his own and we won’t be the fun vacation from real life anymore, because real life will finally be interesting.

So, maybe I’ve learned to be a little more sympathetic towards my mother from the experience?


Last night I saw the Dark Knight with a ridiculous majority of my favorite people, the majority of whom are voracious movie consumers and critics. We left the theatre in dumbstruck silence. I’m hard-pressed to name another movie that literally left me speechless until I exited the theatre complex … maybe Seven?

I did a lot of tearing up along the way, mostly at Heath’s unbidden perfection, but really just because it was an amazing ensemble piece and sometimes great acting clicking together like a well-made watch makes me emotional.

See Also: Battlestar Galactica.


That’s life. Or, at least, this morning’s version of it.

Best Political Quote…. Ever?

[The current Republican Party is] a dead, rotting carcass with a few decrepit old leaders stumbling around like zombies in a horror version of Weekend at Bernie’s, handcuffed to a corpse.

Attribution? Improbably, longtime GOPer Larry Hunter, as quoted by The New Republic. Via Salon.

I literally rolled around on the floor in convulsions of laughter the first time I saw Weekend At Bernie’s, but the morbid schtick didn’t hold up as well to repeat views as, say, Clue.

In a related incident, I garnered a Bernie’s reference this weekend during my decisive win of a limbo tournament, made all the more impressive by the fact that I was competing against at least two people less than five feet tall.

Also, IIRC, my unbeaten streak in seriously competitive limbo extends back to at least 1999.

Ontologically related to the above: the movie poster for Oliver Stone’s impending W is so great that I may have to hang it in my home office:

After these messages…

Today I woke up early so I could go to work early so I could get stuff done early so I could go to a press check and, ultimately, leave early.

After said early departure I engaged in a four-mile marathon walk past and through every hip men’s clothing shop in the entirety of center city Philadelphia, in search of my Lyndzapalooza outfit.

This is a time-honored tradition stretching back to 2003, when I wore my brand new orange sneakers to the first event and got them hopelessly dingy climbing up and down from our stage AKA neighbor’s elevated backyard.

Anywho, the trek, it was long. Every store is selling the same ugly men’s clothing right now, except for Diesel, which is selling fucking uglier men’s clothing. What I really wanted was a Flash t-shirt … well, no, what I really wanted was a Cheetara shirt and a Wonder Woman shirt, but in the midst of writing like 20k unique words over the past month I forgot to order them, which initiated this whole sad hunt. Eventually I found what could be my new favorite piece of clothing (only, mine is green).

Late in the game I dragged my ass the length of South Street, now quite sweating underneath my favorite suit, and increasingly parched. I bypassed mucho de Starbucks to hit one of my few favorite indie coffee shops, Java Company, on 4th and South.

As I ordered my iced soy chai latte (one of my few truly yuppie vices) I overhead a conversation:

“Rip Torn?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he was in Clue

And, now, make sure you are picturing this correctly. I am at my most corporate, in my best suit, and also sweating to death and in running shoes trailing shopping bags, and I whip my head around and say the following:

“Um, are you talking about Clue, the movie? Because Rip Torn is not in Clue. Clue starred Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, Michael McKean as Mr. Green, Leslie Ann Warren as Ms. Scarlet, Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, Eileen Brennan as Ms. Peacock, Colleen Camp as Yvette, and Lee Ving as Mr. Body.”

(Actually, it took me one or two tries to get it all out in a string, because I was getting the McKean’s name tangled, and also because I kept getting distracted by 20 ounces of iced chai latte sitting in front of me, but that was the gist of it.)

Absolutely dumbfounded at my sudden outburst, one of the men from the original conversation replied.

“And Tim Curry.”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, exasperated that he even felt the need to point this out, “and featuring Tim Curry, also as Mr. Body.”

At this point the entire coffee shop, and some children outside, are all staring at me.

“It’s my favorite movie.”

The men stared back at me, their dumbfounded faces slowly melting into a wash of pity and revulsion in reaction to my savant-like obsession with the film.

“Um, yeah. Funny how it’s a movie, but it’s a board game.”

“Yeah, my brother loved that board game. We watched it, like, a dozen times.”

“I’m going to go in the back and look it up on IMDB. I think Rip Torn was in it.”

“Yeah, I think he was.”

I turned, finally, to retrieve my drink, and received a conspiratorial wink from my barista.

“I love that movie. I thought it was so funny when I was a kid, and now when I see it I catch all these different jokes.”

Sensing she was on my side I chose not to delve into a treatise on the obliquely scatological and intensely political humor of the film.

“Yeah, it’s actually pretty subversive.”

Now completely dehydrated and about to crumble into a dusty mix of my constituent non-H20 molecules, I paid for my drink and left.


And that is why it is after 1 a.m. and my heart is beating about as fast as a hamster’s.

Ladies of Oscar

These actually happened to be the top two movies on our queue prior to the Oscars, and we got one on each side of the ceremony.


Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton – One of my favorite actors, but she barely notches enough screen time for her billing, let alone for an award. And that doesn’t even take into account her lackluster performance. Her accent slips in multiple places, she has no good dialog save for her big scene with Clooney, and there she barely holds her own.

(Meanwhile, Clooney chose not to get into character whatsoever, leaving the whole affair with the air of a double-feature episode of Law and Order. The in medias res fails utterly because nothing interesting happens between the tease and the fulfillment.)


Best Actress Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose – One of the most notable performances I’ve seen this decade, and certainly in line with the strength of Helen Mirren’s win last year for The Queen. I know it’s easy to be impressive when you’re aping a real live person, but Cotillard goes beyond tricks of impersonation we’ve seen in other recent biopics to portray the actual heart of her character – without doing any of the singing.

(That she maintains that heart through an utterly bewildering series of narrative shifts in an overall average film is even more impressive. It would have been embarrassing if she didn’t win.)


That all said, they gave two of my favorite acceptance speeches of all time. I’ll let you decide which film we saw prior and which we saw post.

My report on Oscar’s best men coming never, because I don’t have a hair on my body that wants to watch either of those movies, even if I like one out of their three directors.

(ps, In case you need to fine tune to understand our taste, the next movie we received was Ratatouille, which is surely one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen, especially after watching The Incredibles two or three times in the last week.)

Razor’s Dull Edge

E and I just got in from a sneak-preview of the new feature-length Battlestar Galactica episode, Razor, which doesn’t air for another two weeks.

We didn’t have to sign any confidentiality whatsits, so I suppose I’m free to divulge whatever plot points I see fit.

However, it’s hardly worth it – there’s nothing shocking or titillating present for any well-read BSG fan. The sole delights are Michelle Forbes portraying Admiral Caine’s descent into her ends justifying any means necessary, and an impressive turn from the slight Stephanie Jacobsen in the lead role – as newly introduced Kendra Shaw.

Past the leading ladies Razor is a empty husk of less-than-gripping retconned plot. The twin stories it portrays are both extraneous – the Pegasus history just as grim as you imagined it, and the Battlestar present (actually, occurring just after The Captain’s Hand) is an inexplicably unmentioned adventure in vintage Cylons, hybrid models, and nuclear warheads. The acting in the Pegasus half is up to BSG par, but the present is plagued by limp, frequently stilted performances the two Adamas, with Kara Thrace escaping with a few good scenes (especially with Kendra).

Also, keep an eye out for a too-long, horrifically lazy young-Adama flashback that would have been so much more effective as a patented, heavy on the gravitas Edward James Olmos speech intercut with a few illustrative frames. Nevermind how they plan to explain why he’s never mentioned it before or since.

Without a single true shock to its credit, Razor is drab filler that supposedly presages the major revelations of Season 4. I can’t say that it has inspired any additional fervor from this fervent fan. If anything, it just emphasizes why BSG’s lease on life is drawing to a close.

Small Details That Make Me Cry Every Time

1. When Fleur tends to Bill at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

2. Anya’s last scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

3. When Jessica Lange overturns the hospital cart near the end of Big Fish.

4. Madonna’s end-of-tour prayer in I’m Going to Tell You a Secret.

5. When Eowyn defeats the Witch King in Return of the King.

Surely you have noticed that all five moments involve strong or outspoken female characters. The interesting question is, how many of those moment make me cry because they are sad/touching, as opposed to the ones that make me cry because I am a feminist?

At first blush it would seem to be 4 to 1, but not all is what meets the eye.

The Descent

I used to delight in being mean.

The focus of my anger didn’t really matter – a bag boy at the supermarket, a friend in conversation, a bus driver – as long as I vented my spleen at just the right moment. It was infamous and much-lamentedtrait of mine for many years; even Gina would roll her eyes when she saw that i was headed for a blowout.

Over the past few years my capacity for nastiness has been on a steady decline. Even when I summon up a decent fit of rage I usually swallow it, or at least soften the blow. And, not just for the benefit of my friends.

Over the summer I went to see The Descent, and in the fairly packed theatre I sat next to a friendly, cow-eyed middle-aged woman and her companion. She seemed like a decent enough neighbor, though during the previews she occasionally talked back to the screen. But, so do I.

As the movie progressed the talking-back morphed into a non-stop commentary track punctuated with pleas to her companion, like “I don’t know why you brought me to see this,” and “oh my god, you can’t leave me alone to go to the bathroom, I can’t take it. I just can’t take it.” I threw a few sideways glances her way, but she was oblivious in rapt, babbling horror.

Finally, during the first truly grisly scene in the movie her babbling transformed into incoherent gibbering screams, either at the characters on screen or just for her own benefit. Either way, she was significantly louder than the theatre’s surround sound, and I was not missing part of the movie just to get an usher.

Calm and collected, i turned to face the incoherent beast.

“Could you be quieter than the fucking characters in the movie?”

I immediately regreted venting at this creature of an obviously lower personal fortitude than my own. She turned to face me with her horrified, watery cow-eyes, mouth working open and closed like a guppy. She had no verbal reaction, just the “blurp, blurp, blurp” of her jowls working.

Over time my peers have developed an immunity to my scathing remarks, but clearly I had destroyed this creature’s will to live. I had to do something to bring her back from the brink.

“I’m sorry, you’re just really loud.”

She kept guppying at me, accompanying the guppying with her watery wide-eyed stare. I tried to go back to watching the (excellent) movie, but her stare kept nudging me in the side of the head.

I had become more horrifically transfixing than the golum-monsters on screen. I had ruined her movie experience with my meanness. She just wanted to go out to the movies and yammer like a mental patient because she has no coping mechanism to deal with horror but would be the oldest kid in the theatre for The Ant Bully. Who was I to impose society’s artificial standards about being quiet at the movies on her
As the on-screen violence continued I calmly, sweetly, turned back to my (still-staring) neighbor. One of my professors was a fan of a communications theory where other people would agree with you more strongly if you aligned your bodily reactions (like rates of breathing and blinking) with theirs. It was time for a field test.

I carefully matched her cow-stare and her guppy-breathing until I felt that we had reached a state of true simpatico. Gulping down some air and willing my eyes into giant, mooning saucers, I whispered, “I know, it’s really scary.”

Borderline cow-woman bit her lip and nodded at me. I bit my own lip and nodded along. I had established a connection. Slowly, still maintaining eye contact, still in-character as a cow/guppy with borderline personality disorder, I turned back towards the screen.

As if by magic, or a complex system of gears and pulleys, she also turned back towards the screen. I completed my turn in slow motion, finally breaking eye contact when it felt as if my pupil was going to slide back into my head.

She didn’t make another noise or even remotely glance at me for the remainder of the movie, or afterwards when we filed out. Yet, it was a pyrrhic victory, because I felt the need to temper a successful flare-up at a stranger who was screaming incoherently at a movie screen with an apology. You know, so her feelings wouldn’t be too hurt.

Old-school me would have pressed my attack until she ran sobbing from the theatre.

Of course, I wouldn’t have accumulated any good karma that way.

I like to think that present-day me strives to at least break even on karma, which means i only get to be unapolgetically nasty to someone who really deserves it. And, much to my chagrin, talkers at the movies, along with litterers and people who smoke next to you at the bus stop, are just innocent bystanders minding their own lives.

The Prestige

To the magic of the The Prestige i merely say “eh.” It was thouroughly enjoyable to watch, and i’ll definitely see it again, but it ultimately was not very satisfying. At least, not in the way i wanted it to be.

Unlike Nolan’s Momento, which by its nature was mostly unfigureoutable the first time through, Prestige lays it all on the line at various early points and spends the rest of the movie just telling an engaging story while waiting for you to catch up. The ending might some tricky to some, but for those who caught up five minutes previous (or fifty (or a hundred) as the case might have been (or was)) the ending is an ultimate anti-climax – all confirmation, and no surprise.

I can think of three ways that the film could have gone that extra-interesting step; i’ll tuck each behind javascript so as not to spoil anything: 1, 2, 3

Go to this movie for the riveting story of intense jealousy and rivalry. Go for the tale of how no revenge is revenge enough. Go for outstanding performances by Caine, Jackman, and Bale, Scarlett doing what she can with a hobbled role, and marvellous turns from Serkis and Bowie.

If you go for the Nolan riddle wrapped in an enigma you’ll leave feeling as if you had been told a knock-knock joke.

The Descent Offers Awesome Thrills (maybe makes you think)

The Descent is half a languorously-paced introduction and half a compilation of sheer, unadulterated thrill, proving that that horror is in the eye of the beholder as it terrorizes its heroes with the twin threats of nature and something slightly more unnatural. As to which is more horrific, it’s entirely up to you.

(This review is detailed, but spoiler-free!)

The plot is relatively bare, but sketches more personality onto each of our six protagonists than typical genre fare. We don’t learn too much about who is claustrophobic, but we learn a bit about each woman – alternatingly fearless and tentative, experienced and unsure. First-introduced pair of Sarah and the strong-willed Juno are the most fully-realized – both cut from the same adventuresome cloth, but then sewn up in different ways. Their background and ensuing conflicts are the most developed, but the remaining quartet of women are well-enough defined in a few quickly paced bouts of perhaps too-easily-missable dialog.

Stacking the deck with a seemingly cliched extreme thrill-seeker (Holly) and a tentative young med student (Sam) is a blessing in disguise, as each has failings just as distinct as their strengths. The remaining pair – Sarah’s sensible best friend Beth and Sam’s sure older-sister Rebecca – are sketchier archetypes, but come packed with some of the most tangible emotion as the film progresses.

The six women are pulled together by Juno’s resolution that an adventurous distraction could set things straight between her and Sarah, who experienced a terrible and unfortunate tragedy a year before – just minutes after completing the last group adventure. Juno’s choice of challenge is spelunking in a cave that’s slightly more challenging than she lets on. In fact, the cave is terrifying – it’s rocky mass often takes up the majority the screen while a single character scratches and claws her way through a thin crevasse.

As if the spelunking wasn’t hard enough, the adventure is complicated by Juno and Holly’s over-aggressive nature, a single badly chosen path, and the creatures.

The creatures are half Gollum, half X-Files Fluke Man, and all creepy. Their creepiness is not only established by their look, but also their movement and methods of attack, which means that even in relatively bright conditions they still come off as completely terrifying. They are wisely reserved by Writer/Director Neil Marshall, for half the film, only vaguely hinted and once-glimpsed before they finally introduce themselves to the group of adventurers.

Several factors work strongly in Descent‘s favor, not the least of which being that it presents two eminently defeatable horrors: caves which can be surmounting with careful skill, and creatures which can be outsmarted or outfought given the right amount of pluck and timing. Each woman has the chance to do both, with mixed success. In light of this, the tension comes increasingly from personalities while the scares are shifted mostly the creatures (leaving you unprepared for a few final parting shots from the cave itself).

If you have a firm will and a strong stomach you might not avert your eyes from the screen due to the (intense) gore, but the film keeps you wincing with a gruesome bone break and a few terrifically jarring falls. On the human side of things, Juno and Sarah have separate interactions with Beth that left me in full-on tears, while Rebecca’s early feat of athleticism left me gasping for breath after holding it for so long.

Each woman holds their own against the creatures at least a little, with Sam’s quick non-combative reactions almost as satisfying as Natalie Mendoza’s starmaking ass-kickery as Juno. However, it is Shauna MacDonald as Sarah who truly steals the show, combining a little of each woman’s strengths along with a few shocking decisions and one classic Alien-by-way-of-Carrie sequence that could be the film’s trademark.

Ultimately the movie sends the message that thrillers are better off served straight-up thrilling, without the tired cliches that so often define them. The lack of speculation on the creatures’ origins keeps the suspension of disbelief refreshingly afloat. The lack of extended exposition lets the viewer experience everything for themselves. And, the all-female cast collectively reacts just as people under duress should react, making their sex hardly an issue (except for removing the tired angle of romance, and making the “virgin/slut” distinction negligible).

The flick could almost be cast with a blind eye to gender. Yet, it would be a lie to say that the lack of men has no impact – the movie is hardly feminist in conception, but it says some things about women and friendship along the way.

The finale was truncated in the US because the worldwide version was deemed too grim for American audiences. The US version is shocking, though it will leave you uneasy and possibly confused, while the original UK ending turns the film into more of a psychological mindbender than it might have otherwise seemed. It’s hard to say which is superior, but either way this is a movie that absolutely must be experienced on the big screen while you have the chance. A DVD screening won’t pack the same punch, unless you plan to screen in a particularly dank basement with killer surround.

The Descent may fail un-creepable critics, jaded horror junkies, especially well-versed rock-climbers, and creature-obsessees, all of whom will find some chinks to complain over. Anyone who can appreciate the agile-but-sparse character development who enjoys a good, stomach-churning scare would never turn The Descent down.